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Spice Up Your Food to Make Up for Missing Fat

Have you ever found yourself standing in front of a grocery store aisle contemplating calories and fat over flavor? The fat-free versus the whole-fat dressing, for example, or the low-fat sour cream in lieu of the high-fat, high-calorie “real” option.

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The truth is, the real option is most always a better choice over the reduced option. That’s because when manufacturers take something out of a product (like fat) they often replace it with two other things: lots of sugar and lots of additional processing. But what if you don’t want the chemical makeup of the reduced version but also want to avoid all the fat of the real version? Enter the world of spice!

A beautiful plate consists not only of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, but also has a little spicy kick and personality to it as well. A study presented in July 2013 at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo showed that just adding a small amount of herbs and spices to a reduced-fat dish could create a meal just as appetizing as the full-fat dish, while reducing overall calorie intake.

In the vast world of spices, there is a flavor and intensity for everyone—and you don’t need to be a top chef to add some pizzazz to your plate. Grocery stores, health food stores and even online herb shops offer a wide variety of dried herbs and spices as well as fresh herbs and pre-made blends year round. This allows you to conveniently transform your food from bland to beautiful to create endless palate possibilities. For example, you can turn a plain piece of cauliflower into a little nugget of gold that’s packed with flavor by adding spices such as chili powder, cumin, turmeric, garam masala and a tad of cayenne pepper. What’s included in these spices? Lots of benefits that range from easing pain from arthritis to decreasing your risk for certain cancers. What’s not included? The fat and calories you would have contributed to your meal by sautéing in potentially unhealthy oil.

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Spices can also be extremely versatile. If you are in the mood for Chinese cuisine, combine star anise, Sichuan pepper, cloves, ginger and lemon grass for a delicious five-spice blend. If you are looking for a romantic night in with an Italian meal, season your dish with basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, garlic and dried red pepper. You can even transport to the Caribbean by combining cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, garlic, allspice and chilies in a dry rub.

Finally, spices are key when it comes to eating pretty. That’s because they are chock-full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can help slow the aging process. Vitamin C, for example, may help to reduce the rate of wrinkle production, while vitamin E may help boost immune function. Spices can also help keep joints beautiful as well: Curcumin, the active ingredient in the root spice turmeric, for example, has anti-inflammatory benefits that may help ease joint pain.

Next time you want to reduce fat in your diet, opt for a spice that will provide beautiful benefits both inside and out.

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Jasmine El Nabli contributed to this article.